Once in a while, on this journey of life, a man taking refuge under the canopy of a tree at the bank of a river pauses to take stock of his bearing. I am not exactly taking refuge under the canopy neither am I at the bank of a river. However, I live in Lagos and have cause to drive round the city-state on a regular basis in my quest to eke a living. And very recently, I have had cause to reflect on the developmental strides of Babatunde Fashola’s nearly 8 years stewardship at the helm of affairs in this supposed centre of excellence. My reflections maybe at odds with popular acclamation of the narrative of the storyline in town, but the hard facts remain true. Fashola’s term so far, has been a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
No doubt, the governor is obviously riding high in public opinion, touted as the best governor in the country; he is doing his 8th year as governor of Lagos State. He is building on the foundation laid down by his predecessor and godfather Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He has stayed the course of continuity, improved on some infrastructure in the state, beautified the environment by planting trees, flowers and by building parks that were nonexistent. On festive periods like we see abroad, streets and major roads are decorated with Christmas lights that really bring home the spirit of the season. It is something relatively new in this clime.
Fashola, no doubt, deserves credit for some good he has done. He has opened up some areas, built bridges, and reconstructed many roads; Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Ikeja, Apapa, Ikorodu and Surulere are receiving some positive urban renewal. Lagos has since relinquished its toga of being the dirtiest city in the world to some other states.
To a large extent, Lagos increasingly looks like an emerging city that can be rated reasonably well on African scorecard. Who would have thought that the slum and chaos of Oshodi with its ubiquitous molues and buses, drivers milling around, blaring horns ceaselessly and the sea of human traffic competing for space was redeemable? Who would have thought that it was possible to sack the area boys under the bridges which these boys turned into haven for perpetuating their nefarious criminal activities such as rape, robberies and murder?
Fashola made that possible. Today, it is all so different from the safe haven of crime and criminal activities as most of the spaces under bridges have been transformed to serene relaxation spots.
Today, Oshodi looks somewhat peaceful with some sanity, normality and rationality amidst its bristling commerce.For all these, I give Fashola credit. But that will be telling the whole story with one eye closed. That itself will amount to a heinous crime and an unforgiveable disservice to generations to come. Without prejudice, could Fashola have done more compared to the staggering amount of resources at his disposal? Here lies the $25 billion question. For a state that generates nearly N400 billion in internally (IGR) per annum alone, so much is left to be desired. Ironically, Lagos is the biggest debtor state in Nigeria, posting a whopping debt figure of about N600 billion; equivalent of about $3.8 billion. What was all that money used for?
Without mincing words, a dispassionate comparison of Fashola’s performance relative to the resources available to him would not only find his performance underwhelming, it would reveal a shocking level of mismanagement of public money hidden beneath a populist rhetoric of performance.
In nearly 8 years of his tenure, Fashola has expended nearly N4 trillion in revenue, both IGR and federal receivables. That, anyone would agree is a colossal sum enough to transform Lagos into an African miracle. But what we have seen is a city still struggling with broken infrastructure, lack of basic social amenities such as pipe borne water, broken health sector, poor planning, inadequate housing and the absence of such other conveniences that ennobles a modern city.
For all the breathless coverage of Fashola’s ‘‘unprecedented performance,’’ the fact is that Lagos remains a far cry from the dream city we all yearn for.
We have seen what can happen when leadership, vision and dreams coalesce – ideas easily become reality. That is the reality of Dubai, Abu Dabi and Qatar today. From bankrupt desert societies, these countries have been transformed into rallying signpost of new frontiers of finance and trade amongst international businesses attracting tens of billions of dollars from all over the world into their economies. But how did Dubai ‘‘magically leap from an architect’s laptop running the latest computer-assisted design software out onto the pristine desert’’ that everybody now runs to? It is the power of dreams combined with leadership and prudent management of resources by one man whose vision was initially seen as a grand illusion by doubters but who has proved the seemingly impossible possible. About 16 years ago (that’s about the age of our democracy), not much was heard of the city. But today, it is the magical attraction for international commerce with its top notch and state-of-the-art infrastructure. It has become a fantastic get-away for many of Nigeria’s thieving political elite. The question here is how much was used to build Dubai from scratch to the wonder it is today?
How can it ever be right or sensible or even explainable that with the massive resources at the disposal of Fashola in his 8 years, he failed to replicate Dubai here? How does he feel when he travels to Dubai or European cities and see the extent of human possibilities? Why is it that nearly 8 years after he took power and with such colossal resources, crater-filled roads still litter the landscape? There are a thousand and one roads in this mega city that are in such bad state that you are left wondering whether you are in Lagos or some other poor states of the federation. These roads have now come to symbolise the forgotten Lagos.
How can it ever be right that with all the famed performance of this government, pipe borne water is still a scarce resource? An estimated 90% percent of Lagosians have no access to pipe borne water. Nearly every household today self-provide this fundamental necessity of life by building a borehole in Lagos. Recall here that the situation wasn’t this bad before Fashola’s rise to power. At least a great number of households had access to water. Today, all that is gone; consigned to what was in years of yore in Fashola’s centre of excellence.
How can it be right that under Fashola, instead of more people having access to water, what we are seeing is a rapid decline of access to clean affordable water?
The false under belly of this government was exposed when the Ebola incident broke. Over 2,000 public schools in the state have no water and toilets. Recall that this was one of the reasons teachers refused to resume.How can it ever be right that in this day and age, in no other place than the Centre of Excellence, numerous public schools have no roofs/toilets and students sit on worn out tyres to learn in classrooms that have neither windows nor doors? This is the state of some public schools in Lagos and I am not kidding. And Fashola is said to be the best thing to have happened in this democracy. He is described with various superlative adjectives by some who, frustrated by a succession of poor leaders have lowered the standards and criteria of excellence to what would otherwise pass for average or a little below average performance to a measure of excellence. And here lies the tragedy of our situation as Fashola continues to bask in the praises showered on him with a chip on his shoulders and now walks with a swagger.
Four years ago, former deputy governor of Lagos State under the Tinubu’s administration, Femi Pedro gave his assessment of the Fashola administration by stating: “I realized that, through clever and constant application of propaganda, our people have been made to see hell as paradise.
‘‘Today, Lagos has become a sad and sorry tale of two stories. On one hand, I see people driving on pothole-infested roads and sleeping in flooded homes. I see children starved of adequate educational facilities and sick people denied basic healthcare facilities. I see neighbors continuously subjected to exorbitant rent and jobless street miscreants. I see poorly paid teachers, doctors going on indefinite strike and market women forced to pay excessive stall rates.
“Astonishingly, on the other hand, I see a government that claims it generates about N18 billion a month from taxes, levies and surcharges, yet it is so disconnected from the plight of Lagosians, that it is more concerned about lavishing praises on itself than it is on improving the welfare of its citizens. Are we actually better off than we were four years ago? It is a tragedy and a big slight on my generation that this level of mediocrity is currently being celebrated meritoriously, but it is a bigger slight on us, the people, when our expectations are driven by such minimum standards.’’
It is doubtful whether Mr. Pedro’s position has changed, bearing in mind that when he made his assessment, he was an outsider or an opposition member in the politics of Lagos. He has since joined APC and now carries the broom about like a loyal party man. But irrespective of his new leaning, that assessment four years ago rings true today like never before.
I have never felt the urge to rebuke a public servant like I have felt to do to Fashola. It was at the height of the school fees crisis in Lagos recently when Fashola displayed such crass insensitivity to the circumstances of his own education and ultimately his rise to power and ignored pleas to review downward the astronomical school fees he had imposed on LASU Students. While students staged a sit-out in front of his office, Fashola was unmoved. It is important here to note that Fashola was unmoved by the plight of the students because he has become disconnected from the realities of our people. He didn’t feel the pain of the students. But why should he? The irony here is that his children will never have to carry placards demonstrating against high fees. At least they haven’t had the reason to sit-it-out at the UK Prime Minister’s doorstep or picket the office of the Mayor of London to get school fees reviewed. At some point, we’ll have to call on Fashola to explain how he used a whopping N27 to N29 billion to build a one and a half kilometre stretch of bridge from Lekki to Ikoyi on a shallow corner of the lagoon. With that sum of money, the bridge is easily one of the most expensive kilometre-stretch of construction work on planet earth. It is even touted as a cable bridge, but it is not except for those who believe that orange and apple have no difference.
Fashola at some point will have to explain how he used N2 billion to build the Falomo ramp that is just few yards in length. Fashola will have to explain to the tax payers of Lagos, the rationale and economics of buying back the Lekki Road from the concessionaire, LCC. If all these are not breaking a bank’s vault in the middle of the night without compromising the locks, someone will have to tell me what it is. And yet, when they mouth those platitudes of accountability, transparency and patriotism, I feel like shouting at them from the roof to shut up. I have never been swayed by either the beauty of their oratory or the substance of their claim each time they claim to be working for the people because I know they only mean well for themselves and use the people as pawn in a complex game of chess to achieve their own selfish interest.
His infamous intervention on the Ekiti election poll result gave him away as a less than honest and blatantly partisan leader. If one believes in the power of the people, then we must respect the electoral mandate as expressed by the people irrespective of who the beneficiary is. His celebration of victory in Osun while rubbishing the mandate in Ekiti State was not only graceless, self-conceited, but out rightly hypocritical; He seems to be saying by the two reactions, that only when his party wins is the result of an election authentic and a reflection of the true aspiration of the people. Well, he is wrong. On this I urge him to learn from how leaders in Europe and America react to election defeat.